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How Does the South Carolina Magistrate Court Work?

South Carolina Magistrate Courts, also known as summary courts, are trial courts with jurisdiction over cases involving offenses attracting a penalty of imprisonment not exceeding 30 days or a fine, not more than $500. The court also has civil jurisdiction over claims valued at $7,500 or less.

The Magistrate Court is generally responsible for setting bail, issuing arrest and search warrants, and conducting preliminary hearings. The court may also issue restraining orders under the Harassment and Stalking statute, and Emergency Orders of Protection when the Family Court is closed or not in session. The magistrates provide such services in different areas of the respective counties.

The South Carolina Magistrate Court is a court with civil and criminal jurisdiction. A person may file a civil lawsuit in the Magistrates Court if the person’s body or property was damaged or injured, and the value of that damage or injury is $7500 or less. The court also has jurisdiction over certain criminal cases. Some Magistrate Courts also handle municipal ordinance violations with the consent of the municipality.

The criminal cases that a South Carolina Magistrate Court has jurisdiction over include criminal cases punishable by short terms of incarceration or limited fines and preliminary hearings for most other criminal cases. Examples of such cases are shoplifting, domestic violence, fraudulent checks, larceny involving less than $1000, certain cases involving assault or battery or breach of the peace, receiving stolen goods, traffic and fish and game law violations, and false pretenses.

South Carolina Magistrate Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over criminal cases where the punishment does not exceed imprisonment for 30 days or a fine of $100. It also has exclusive jurisdiction over all first-violation domestic violence cases, except within Orangeburg County. The Magistrate Court shares jurisdiction with the South Carolina Circuit Court when the penalty of the offense exceeds imprisonment for 30 days or a fine of $100.

The civil cases that the court has jurisdiction over include contract claims, penalties or fines or forfeitures, damages to real or personal property, and attachment of property for debts. The South Carolina Magistrate Court also has jurisdiction over certain types of claims that have no financial limit. These include some bonds, some landlord-tenant cases, confessions of judgment, cases involving rented personal property, and interpleaders.

However, in most cases, Magistrates Courts do not have jurisdiction over civil cases if the State is a party. Neither does it handle most cases that involve disputes over the title to real estate. Any civil case with counterclaims beyond the jurisdictional limits of the South Carolina Magistrates Court is transferred to the Circuit Court


The Magistrates Court also shares jurisdiction with the South Carolina Family Courts over certain cases involving fish and game, juvenile violations of traffic, and watercraft ordinances. It also has jurisdiction over petitions for domestic abuse protection orders if the Family Court is not in session or closed.

In South Carolina, there are approximately 300 magistrates appointed to serve a particular county. The Governor appoints each judge of the South Carolina Magistrate Courts on the advice and consent of the state senate for a term of four years and until the successor is qualified and appointed. The magistrate may be appointed to a full time or part-time.

A full-time magistrate is one who regularly carries out official magistrate duties for forty hours a week. The part-time magistrate works for fewer hours. To be eligible to serve as a South Carolina magistrate, a person must:

  • Be a citizen of the United States
  • Be a qualified elector in the relevant county
  • Have been resident in the State of South Carolina for at least five years
  • Be between the ages of 21 and 72
  • Have received a four-year baccalaureate degree

Even after meeting these qualifications, every South Carolina magistrate must pass certification or recertification examinations, or complete a training program depending on the standards established by the South Carolina Supreme Court. Every magistrate must pass a recertification examination within eight years after passing the first examination, and at least once every eight years after that.

The Board of Magistrate and Municipal Judges Certification is responsible for making the rules and regulations for conducting the mandatory training program curriculum and examinations. Each South Carolina county has a chief magistrate appointed by the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The Magistrate Court judge is subject to the disciplinary authority of the South Carolina Supreme Court for any misconduct. It is irrelevant whether the misconduct was a judicial or non-judicial action or whether it occurred before or after the magistrate assumed judicial office. Some of the acts that may constitute misconduct include if the magistrate:

  • Was convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude;
  • Violated the code of judicial conduct
  • Fails to carry out the judicial duties or is constantly neglectful or incompetent in the performance of such duties
  • Is habitually intemperate
  • Does not issue orders, opinions, or decrees on time
  • Fails to carry out official duties without excuse or just cause

Where a magistrate is suspended, it is not a finding of guilt or innocence. It also does not follow a finding of guilt or innocence concerning a certain charge, complaint, or allegation. The suspension prohibits the South Carolina magistrate from performing any judicial functions until the completion of further investigation.

The South Carolina Supreme Court also can remove a Magistrate Court judge for physical or mental disability.

Interested persons may find South Carolina magistrate court records on the South Carolina Judicial Branch website. Some counties like Greenville and Lexington also have a public index search engine where users can find magistrate court or summary court records. When using these sites, provide either the name of any of the parties or the case number. For certified copies of South Carolina magistrate court records, visit the Office of the Clerk of the Magistrate Court, where the case was heard.

There are about three hundred magistrate courts in the State of South Carolina. Each county has at least three Magistrate Courts. The South Carolina Judicial Branch has a list containing the locations of each Magistrate Court county by county on its website. Click on the relevant county link, which provides a list of the Magistrate Court judges and the Magistrate Courts within the county. Click on the court sought after for the address and contact information of the court.

The civil procedure in a South Carolina Magistrate Court begins with the service of a complaint and a summons upon a defendant. After receiving the summons, the defendant has thirty days to file a response. If the defendant fails to do so, the court may give a default judgment, which may bring the case to an end. On the other hand, if the defendant responds, the case goes to trial. The law specifies no time limit for this.

A criminal case may begin by the crime victim or a law enforcement officer filing a complaint under oath and requesting that the magistrate issues an arrest warrant. After the warrant is served, the defendant is then brought before the magistrate. There is also no stipulated time limit for completing a criminal matter in a South Carolina Magistrate Court.